photo & text by nacrowe
ive written before about what a unique film DAVID BYRNE's TRUE STORIES (review linked HERE). in essence its a multi-tiered fictional narrative from the perspective of a NEW YORKER about various idiosyncratic characters from TEXAS. growing up on a compound in NIGERIA surrounded by TEXANS and LOUISIANANS, TRUE STORIES was a godsend in attempting to understand their backwards ways. and i say that with full contempt.
but the music from the film is what drew me in as a child and had me rewatch countless times. as to be expected, in the movie the characters more or less sing all of the songs, with a few exceptions. the release of the TALKING HEADS' album TRUE STORIES (SIRE, 1986), however, is sung entirely by BYRNE. the songs are forever intertwined with the film, and what is striking about the songs is the range of genres and perspectives captured in these songs. from the good ol' boy perennial bachelor and man-about-town played by a young JOHN GOODMAN singing the lap steel-inflected country ballad "PEOPLE LIKE US" about small town values to TITO LARRIVA (of LOS ANGELES PUNK band THE PLUGZ fame) singing a CHICANO-rock ode to the glory, majesty and mystery of transistor radios (and by extension the computer chip industry) in "RADIO HEAD"; the album is a showcase of the width and breadth of TEXAN culture circa the 1980s. other notable examples from the film range from topics such as the conspiratorial brand of EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANITY taking shape at the time ("PUZZLIN' EVIDENCE" sung by JOHN INGLE & THE BERT CROSS CHOIR) to crass CONSUMERISM both in commercials ("LOVE FOR SALE") and in newly constructed malls ("DREAM OPERATOR").
taken as a whole i always appreciated how the songs themselves showcase a perspective on small-town AMERICAN life that celebrates both the ARTIFICE of mainstream CONSUMER CULTURE and the value of the community that springs for from it. to be AMERICAN in this milieu just means being plugged in to the latest fashion trends, going to church, eating with your family and working at a nearby production plant. its a film that celebrates conformity, specifically the surface-level safety of buying in to the AMERICAN DREAM without worrying about the finer details of history, inequality or racism.
when i watch TRUE STORIES now as an adult it feels like a searing takedown of all those naive and hopelessly quixotic ideals surrounding AMERICAN CONSUMER CULTURE from the inside out. or maybe i am misreading it. i'll never know which is probably why i continue to keep rewatching it and listening to the soundtrack..
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